Friday, May 27, 2022

The Roman Baths

The Roman Baths in the city of Bath, Somerset, England. Somewhere we had wanted to visit for a long time. I had been before as a very small person, all I can remember is the dreadful stink.

There has been a spa on these premises since Celtic times, obviously because that happens to be where the water pops up after its long meandering journey underground, getting warmer over the millenia. 

For our purposes, the original construction of the spa was around 65 AD. It was a case of 'This is what the Romans did for us!' Non Monty Python fans can ignore that bit.

The thermal waters led to a temple being built, which then led to the small Roman urban settlement, Aquae Sulis around the site. The public could use the baths for bathing, and they were in use right up to the  end of the Roman  occupation of ….well most sites state 'Britain', but there were a lot of bits of Britain that Romans couldn’t be bothered with. The  natives were smelly, the weather was awful or there was just nothing to be gained by invading the lands to the north of Englandshire.

On and off through the history, the spring waters have attracted people, including the 1.4 million visitors a year. You can walk round the museum. It’s a very good experience, the tickets are timed and restricted so that there's not too many people in the small underground chambers at once. There's a lot to see and read. The beautifully constructed displays were  marred slightly by the  screaming 2 year old that decided to accompany our visit. They were timed differently to us but had been late. It’s educationally immersive but not literally so, except for that wee kid who came close a few times. I felt a novel coming on more than once.

There’s the usual audio narration, plus another narration of various bits by Bill Bryson; he’s fascinated by the fact that the water emerging from the spring  fell as rain in the Mendip Hills about 10 000 years ago. Also, that the Roman soldiers here had a type of funeral fund between them so they got a decent funeral away from home. There was a trade union amongst them.

On its journey through the hills,  geothermal energy raises the water temperature to as high as 96 C (or 204 in real money).  On my previous visit, as an extreme youth (  I didn’t scream the place down, or I’d been put in a cupboard ), I  could smell the waters – and I can still recall the stink. I knew  my dad told somebody that it wasn’t the baths that were stinking, ( rotten eggs was the aroma that came to mind)  it was because there was a drought and most of the south of England was smelling oddly. 

In 2022, my other half, having little sense of taste, had a sip of the water at the drinking well- he pronounced it warm and  slightly musty, ‘not nice’. The water contains lots of sodium, calcium, chloride and sulphate.

 As a slight sub story, a girl died in October 1978 after swimming in the water,  having contracted meningitis, tests showed Naegleria fowleri, a deadly bacteria in the water.  Now customers can experience the waters via a modern spa nearby where the water comes from recently drilled boreholes.

The whole site is really a place of worship for a Celtic goddess Sulis who became Minerva when the Ropmans arrived.  There’s a story I liked of  some ancient King and his herd of pigs being cured of leprosy after bathing in the water.

The baths at the height of their popularity with the Romans  included a caldarium ( where one would be scalded?), a tepidarium ( lukewarm?), and frigidarium ( freezing ??).  These have been long lost to silting up, flooding, leaking and generasl disrepair.

Here are a few pictures;
The main bath. 
                    The rather regal sites overlooking the baths. As a city, it's all a bit crammed together.

The models were fabulous, even wee dogs running around, children playing.

The kids on the model were seen and not heard.
The entrance to the Temple of Aqua Sulis, or the remanants thereof.
A projected image fills out the  missings bits. Every item on that image dispicts something of importance. Dolphins and owls for water and wisdom.
The underground water emerges. Would you like a glass?
The thermal underground system of the Romans.

Underfloor heating in those days.
Filmed depictitions of what it would have been like then.
As they are now. Busy, full of tourists.

I wonder if the guests are more relaxed then? Or now?

1 comment:

  1. Back in the days when you were a wee lass, dear Caro, I remember a day trip my friend and I took to Bath during a Christmas week vacation in Castle Combe. What still sticks with me are memories of its stunning church surroundings, and of course, the pughs.